They Say There’s a Radish in There…

“The jewel of awakened heart cannot be lost. It is here in all that lives, never marred and completely whole.”                   Pema Chodron


All winter, the catalogues arrived; they had me thinking about seeds. I’ve imagined zinnias; tall and sturdy colors will grace my dinner table! And cucumbers: we’ll make pickles! And lettuce and spinach and radishes for salads! I bought lots.

It’s early spring and they’re here on my kitchen counter in their little teeny envelopes, dry and boring and lifeless. The zinnia seeds are flimsy brown wisps; lettuce seeds are black little bits of dust.  And the radish seeds: they are so tiny, so dry and brown.  They say there’s a radish in there. My mind insists: that cannot possibly be true. No green and living thing can possibly be hiding in a place so obviously empty and barren. Further, I’m instructed to bury these lifeless things? In dirt??  New life will come from that? That can’t be right. And then pour water?  How can that work? Am I not required to DO something more actively to make a radish? Maybe crack the seed open and pry out the radish within?

My daily meditation practice offers me a similar wonder. How can sitting quietly day after day with loving presence, doing (apparently) nothing…really now, how can that lead me steadily to an awakening into freedom? It’s a puzzlement, especially today, when my practice seems kind of empty: when my back aches and my emotions offer fear and grumpiness; when my mind lurches between riots of thinking and a sludge of sleepiness, what is the point and where is the harvest? Am I not supposed to DO something here?

The seeds remind me and invite me into faith and magic. I remember the long-ago delight of my kindergarten class and the green unfolding of those mysterious beans.  I first learned about patience, then – and about wise intention and balanced effort.  There were just those few simple actions; together we wet that blotter and carefully tucked the hard little white thing between the soggy wetness and the glass. After that, there was not a lot to DO. Well, we did take turns each day to care for it, making sure it was moistened just a bit and not moved too far from that light filled counter next to the puppets and the lined-up storybooks. The seed, however, had a mysterious life of its own that, given the right care, simply awoke.

My teacher, John Welwood taught that kind awareness works in a similar, seemingly magical, way. “Unconditional presence, he wrote, “(is)…the most powerful transmuting force there is, precisely because it is a willingness to be there with our experience, without dividing ourselves in two by trying to “manage” what we are feeling.”  I learn it daily. Yes. My willingness to be present with a loving and compassionate awareness is like the warmth of sun on that little seed in the darkness of earth.  Presence simply, kindly, knows: “It’s like this now.” How I am with it is what matters. Presence unfolds me to a deeper quality of awakeness found at the core of my – and your – being. Instead of being “owned” by identification with the surface forms of mind – those conditioned ideas about self and other – there is a resting in the mystery and wholeness of being itself. From there, I can see more clearly what, if anything, there is to do.

Over and over and over, I learn. There are some things that I can do that are skillful. Other things: not so much. I can choose my speech and action, but I am, ultimately, not in charge. The warmth of love and acceptance rules.

“Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened? As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning. Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe? To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”                                                             Anthony de Mello




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